FAQ

Few of the great works of ancient Greek literature are easy reading. They nearly all need study and comment, and at times help from a good teacher, before they yield up their secret. And the Poetics cannot be accounted an exception. For one thing the treatise is fragmentary. It originally consisted of two books, one dealing with Tragedy and Epic, the other with Comedy and other subjects. We possess only the first. For another, even the book we have seems to be unrevised and unfinished. The style, though luminous, vivid, and in its broader division systematic, is not that of a book intended for publication. Like most of Aristotle’s extant writing, it suggests the MS. of an experienced lecturer, full of jottings and adscripts, with occasional phrases written carefully out, but never revised as a whole for the general reader.

For example, there i.e.lightenment in the literal phrase, ’how the myths ought to be put together.’ The higher Greek poetry did not make up fictitious plots; its business was to express the heroic saga, the myths. Again, the literal translation of poetes, poet, as ’maker’, helps to explain a term that otherwise seems a puzzle in the Poetics. If we wonder why Aristotle, and Plato before him, should lay such stress on the theory that art is imitation, it is a help to realize that common language called it ’making’, and it was clearly not ’making’ in the ordinary sense. The poet who was ’maker’ of a Fall of Troy clearly did not make the real Fall of Troy. He made an imitation Fall of Troy. An artist who ’painted Pericles’ really ’made an imitation Pericles by means of shapes and colours’. Hence we get started upon a theory of art which, whether finally satisfactory or not, is of immense importance, and are saved from the error of complaining that Aristotle did not understand the ’creative power’ of art.